By Assistant Professor Dr. Kritsada Sriphaew, Dean of Rangsit University International College, Rangsit University
The phrase ‘university crisis’ is one most people are unfamiliar with; however, it is becoming an unfortunate reality due to the dramatic reduction in university enrollment over the last few years. Universities are facing closure not due to educational quality issues, rather due to overwhelming cost and lower standard of education. This is a serious problem not only faced by Thailand, but by an increasing number of universities around the world. In 2018, 500 universities and colleges in the U.S. closed their doors and a further 4,000 are expected to do the same in the next 10 – 15 years. And the situation is similar in Japan where the aging population has caused a significant drop in student numbers. From 2008 to 2017 the number of 18-year-olds in Japan dropped by 1.2 million forcing the closure of at least 15 universities.
Thailand is no exception and is facing the same challenges. Here the issue can be dated back to 1997 where the Tom-Yun-Kung economic crisis which had a direct impact on the birthrate. While in 1996 983,935 children were born, this figure fell to 771,787 in 2002, and then further to 666,109 in 2018. Roughly 18-20 years after that crisis, we are now seeing the effect of that initial fall in our birthrate. Only an approximate number of 260,000 students were enrolled at university level education (in 2018) leaving a large surplus of seats at universities. Compounding the issue is the aging population problem which Thailand is also facing.
The only solution for surviving is this harsh climate is reformation. For example, the National University of Singapore (NUS) has changed its 4-year program to a life-long learning program with no age limitation for potential students. Several Thai universities have also updated their curriculum with a broader range of subjects including Love Theory (RSU), Horoscopes (KMITL), How to Die Effectively (CU), and How to Live Happily with Animals (MU). Online learning and blended learning are also becoming more popular due to their appeal to part-time learners. These developments not only change the curriculum, but are also representative of a shift in the outcomes which learners are demanding while at university, resulting in the need to effectively incubate entrepreneurship and start-up business skills.
What then, will be the future of universities in 10 years? This is an open question with no immediate answer in this era of disruption, as the rate of change is continuing to increase. Governments certainly have an obligation to quickly and effectively reform the education system by offering appropriate support, and to redesign the education system to manage the aging population problem while continuing to improve quality. Both government and private universities need to combine efforts to create an effective education ecosystem for the sake of the community as a whole. Businesses also have an interest in assisting reformation to ensure that market demand is adequately met with appropriate graduates. Although these solutions may be pie-in-the-sky, education must still remain as technology can never completely replace teachers. This reason for this stems from the inbuilt need of humans to continually gain new and interesting knowledge. Education in the future will need to depart from the conservative ways of the past, and develop into online, blended, and even self-study formats. Additionally, human teachers will still be needed to create passion, and provide encouragement to students in order to develop student personalities and human values. How much appreciation do you have for your favorite human teacher in life compared with your favorite YouTube teacher?